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Comfort Zone – Targeting emotional attunement.

30th October 2013

As a Clinical Psychologist working with Barnardo’s my life has been transformed by two words ‘Comfort Zone’. When I started with Barnardo’s my role centred on training Foster Carers on attachment and supporting them with the children in their care. However, Barnardo’s, who also provide support to parents through their Family Support Teams then commissioned me to ‘design an intervention to help parents provide secure attachments for their children’.

Comfort Zone is designed to help parents improve their emotional attunement with their child. The idea being that attunement is one of the steps to developing a healthy secure attachment. Many parents do not realise that they hold the key to their child’s future emotional health and that the way they interact with their child in the first years of life will establish either a secure or insecure attachment. Writing half a century ago Bowlby could be forgiven for not imagining that his theory would have been supported by 21st century neuroscience. The case for promoting secure attachment is now accepted by politicians, academics and clinicians.

What puzzled me however was, given that we have had attachment theory for many decades and that most parents want what is best for their children, why then do we still have so many insecurely attached children? I wondered if there may be a disconnection between what we as professionals know about attachment and how we translate that knowledge to parents in a way that will help them attune to their child’s needs and provide the child with the responsive reciprocal relationship needed for healthy emotional development.

Since its inception in 2009 my role at Barnardos has grown from supporting Foster Carers to training both internal and external staff to use Comfort Zone. Health Visitors and Nursery Nurses have been keen to use it seeing its potential to transform the lives of children. It is one of a few tools designed specifically to target emotional attunement.

Trained staff work with parents asking them to rate their emotional interactions with their child. Strategies are then provided to help parents change these interactions if they wish so that their child is in their Comfort Zone.  The scale is based on colour and temperature and so provides a ‘language’ to have these sensitive discussions in a much less threatening way than purely verbally.  

One Health Visitor remarked that it is a simple visual tool but one that gets the idea over to parents of how to tune-in to their child emotionally. She said using Comfort Zone can provided parents with a ‘light-bulb’ moment, an insight and understanding of what they need to do to raise a securely attached child.

Comfort Zone has been piloted and the results published in Community Practitioner in April this year. The intervention needs a lot more work to establish itself as an evidence based approach. However if it helps parents understand their vital role in providing for their child’s future happiness it has to be worth pursuing.

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